Tour de France News Extra for July 15, 2004
Edited by John Stevenson
O'Grady still second; McEwen's green threatened
Australian round-up by John Trevorrow
Photo: © Jon Devich
Stuart O'Grady rode superbly in the 237 km longest stage of the tour
from Limoges to St Flour, although he finished just outside the points
in 23rd place in his battle for green. O'Grady is still in 2nd place in
General Classification but local hero Thomas Voeckler doesn't look likely
to surrender his Maillot Jaune before the Pyrenees.
However it was Erik Zabel who has mounted the most impressive challenge
for the Maillot Vert. The first mountain stage, with nine categorised
climbs including a category one, did not open up the GC as predicted and
Zabel sprinted strongly up the demanding final kilometre to take 3rd spot
and valuable points.
He is now only 10 points behind Robbie McEwen after gaining 15 points
on him, McEwen finishing well out of the points in 164th position. Tomorrow's
stage, although tough with five climbs, does not look difficult enough
to trouble the in-form German and should also suit O'Grady, so McEwen's
hold on the green jersey suddenly looks precarious.
McEwen battled all day but finally had to succumb to the pressure and
the incessant climbs. "I feel better now than what I did at the start,"
he said. "I was in a bit of trouble but I got through it, step by step.
I felt a bit blocked at the start, and with the winding roads and the
up and down, you had to be up the front. Hopefully I can recover and be
right for tomorrow."
"This was the hardest day of the Tour for me and I'm glad it's over.
This kind of stage with all the climbing and the winding roads is not
my type of day and never was going to be. I wasn't trying to fight to
stay in the front group or get a result today, I was just trying to finish
and get the stage out of the way."
McEwen's knee is still giving him problems after his crashes in the first
week of the Tour, but was less of a factor than the terrain. "My knee's
still sore but fortunately it didn't really affect me today," he said.
"The problems could come in the Pyrenees at the weekend. I don't know
how my knee will handle all the climbing. I usually make it through by
finishing in the main bunch of riders but with an injury it's going to
be even harder. I hope my experience of suffering will help me survive."
Allan Davis was dropped, like many others, on the first category-one
climb of the tour, however his team leader, Roberto Heras, managed to
stay in touch with the main contenders.
"We were just trying to get in the moves at the start," said Davis, "then
get the guys who are climbers, like Roberto, up the front for the cat.
1 climb and then let them go. We'll see what happens after that. Just
basically put it on the line."
He was asked how he felt after the gruelling 237km stage.
"Not too bad. Very tired, but I'm sure there a lot of other guys out
there who are tired as well."
For Alessio's Scott Sunderland, it was a day of survival. "I had really
heavy legs today - they weren't sore, painful, or stiff, just heavy,"
writes in his diary. "It was like I had old training wheels on, not
my race wheels. That's the sensation I had, and it never got better. I
was able to keep myself at the front, but my legs were not willing to
get in the breaks. It wasn't like the previous days where I was looking
for every opportunity. I felt good otherwise and I woke up fresh. It was
just a matter of going through the motions."
Voeckler gets by
Photo: © Jon Devich
Brioche la Boulangere's young French champion Thomas Voeckler wasn't
expected to hang on to the yellow jersey after the long and hilly terrain
of stage 10, but with a little help from his friends, the 24-year-old
will spend one more day as race leader.
"I don't know what to say about the yellow jersey," said Voeckler. "If
it wasn't for the hard work of my team-mates from the start to the end
of each stage, I simply wouldn't have the jersey," said the French national
That willingness to share the credit, combined with his constant smile
and boyish good looks, have earned Voeckler a tremendous amount of affection
from the French public, starved of a true star in their national race
for many years. Fans turned out in huge numbers to cheer on the yellow
jersey on France's national day. But he recognises that hanging on for
much longer will not be easy.
"It's going to be hard over the coming days, and I'm not looking forward
to the climbs in the mountains but we'll be doing everything we can to
keep the jersey. The guys are right behind me and want to keep it in the
team. The least I can do is do my bit."
"I'm not a machine," added Voeckler. "I had some bad moments today and
some good ones too. I was very impressed by the work my team did for me,
but so much energy was spent today that we can't do it every day."
Voeckler was impressed with the ride of compatriot and stage winner Richard
Virenque, saying, "It's a great win for him, major respect to Richard.
It was a hard stage, and he really went looking for the win."
Bruyneel: every second counts
US Postal directeur sportif Johan Bruyneel was happy with the performance
of his main man Lance Armstrong in stage 10, and happy also that Armstrong
added a few precious seconds to the margin he holds over two his likely
main rivals in this Tour de France, Tyler Hamilton and Roberto Heras.
"Remember Fignon? He lost by eight seconds. It can be important," said
Bruyneel. Armstrong is now 43 seconds ahead of Hamilton and 1:52 ahead
of Heras. But while Armstrong gained seven seconds there, Jan Ullrich
was able to stay with him on the final climb and remains a threatening
55 seconds behind.
However, Bruyneel said that it was still too early in the race to be
certain of Armstrong's form. Armstrong "looked good and sounded good on
the radio," Bruyneel said. "It was a hard climb ... but still very far
from the finish of the race, so we can't really know now who is good and
Virenque vs Merckx
After co-operating on their breakaway in stage 10, Axel Merckx and Richard
Virenque engaged in a rather fractious battle of words after the stage.
The point of contention: whether Virenque broke an agreement between the
two to stay together for the finish.
"We had an agreement," said Merckx, who was dropped by the peloton after
being caught after the final climb. "He was to take the points [for the
mountains jersey], we would ride to the finish together then we would
fight for the victory. I was riding at my own rhythm, then he accelerated.
I thought he was going to wait for me. He didn't stick to his word. He
was obviously carried away by the fact it was France's national holiday."
Virenque said that he was riding today for the king of the mountains
jersey, and that the stage win was not part of the original plan. But
had he stayed with Merckx on the first category Col du Pas de Peyrol-Le
Puy Mary, the stage victory would have been in jeopardy and team orders
took over. "I didn't attack Axel," said Virenque. "The team manager just
asked me to go a bit faster to make sure of the stage win. We had attacked
together, but he cracked when we were riding steadily up the first category
climb. I didn't betray him. I can understand he's disappointed but we're
not in the same team, so it's not me he should be angry at."
At 34 Virenque is approaching the end of his career. He'd clearly like
to dispel the memory of darkest moments of his 13 year pro career - the
Festina scandal in 1998 and his subsequent suspension - by becoming the
only rider to win the Tour de France polka dot jersey seven times. But
"I can go in peace now," Virenque said of his Bastille Day victory. "The
day I feel that I'm on the way down, I will stop. I don't want to ride
a year too many. We'll discuss it at the end of the Tour but as long as
the flame is there, I think I should continue. I don't know exactly when
but I will have to make a decision soon."
"The most difficult part of the season is the start," said Virenque.
"It's hard to make the sacrifices when you have a wife and children and
you want to spend more time with them."
Virenque has made a trademark of long, high-intensity escapes in the
mountains, bagging points on the way, but stage 10 took all his reserves.
"I was really exhausted towards the end," said Virenque. "The final bit
was very hard. I'm dead. I might pay for it tomorrow but the main thing
was to make an impression in this Tour."
Hincapie to be a father
US Postal rider George Hincapie has revealed that he and girlfriend Melanie
Simonneau are expecting their first child in November. The couple, who
recently announced their engagement, met at last year's Tour de France,
where Simonneau was one of the "Credit Lyonnais girls" hired by the race's
sponsor to hand out fluffy lions.
"I was mesmerized by her," Hincapie told Associated Press. "I
needed to talk to her or find her phone number." Hincapie didn't
think it would amount to anything, but nevertheless wrote Simonneau a
note and got one of her bosses to pass it along. A year later, 23-year-old
Simonneau is five months pregnant. "We found out three days ago that it
is a girl," said Hincapie.
(All rights reserved/Copyright Knapp Communications Pty Limited 2004)